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Co-Writer Paul Robison*
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Paul Robison
Jan 13, 2018
11 Mins Read
No Plagiarism!hEf8s3e0QIvmHsMfLr3Kposted on PENANA

Zack Caron was waiting for her at the east end of Corridor 2, near the entrance to the Command Center.  He'd argued against her being the one to steal the access card, but Carlyn had been insistent.  McKee wouldn't have trusted Zack enough to let him close to him.  But McKee was a Neanderthal and hadn't given "a mere woman" enough credit for being dangerous, just as Carlyn had predicted.21Please respect copyright.PENANAEa8G2KiV0Q
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It was late enough, after midnight, that nobody else was around.  Luckett's imposition of regular day/night routine wasn't exactly a curfew, but it was strict enough that for practical purposes it served as one.  The Icarus Project never really slept, but not many people were out and about in the middle of the night.copyright protection17PENANA4DGkM9o0af

Caron stepped toward to meet her with a worried frown on his face.  "Are you all right?" he asked, then abruptly reached out to take hold of her shoulders.  "My God, Carlyn, is that blood on your face?"copyright protection17PENANAJFBq8oGTQK

"What?" Carlyn was annoyed.  She swiped a hand at her face.  She had believed she got all the gore off. "It's not mine," she went on.copyright protection17PENANADva02NgS5D

"McKee's," Caron breathed.copyright protection17PENANATahAv3JT4T

Carlyn shrugged, signifying her agreement with what he said and getting his hands off her at the same time.  She patted her pocket and said, "I've got his access cards."copyright protection17PENANA9NzKdH9UBZ

"Is he going to..."copyright protection17PENANAEfvPfxCwpI

"He's not going to do anything to cause us a problem.  Ever again."copyright protection17PENANA9jTqTotDix

Caron stared at her.  He liked to think he was a tough guy, and he didn't back down when it came to a fistfight.  She wasn't sure he could've killed McKee, though.  He might have hesitated at just the wrong second.  He wasn't driven by the same kind of hatred she was."copyright protection17PENANAxrk6cyOmtq

After a moment, Caron drew a deep breath and nodded. "All right.  I guess that means you're ready to do this."copyright protection17PENANAl8FRXUpAqP

"More than ready," Carlyn said.  She turned to the door with its card-reader slot.  Taking the access cards from her pocket, she began trying them one by one until the small light set into the door's handle turned green. She grasped the handle and twisted it. The door opened and they walked into the Command Center.copyright protection17PENANAiz8cZ2BtGU

A guard was on duty just inside the door, but he wasn't used to seeing anyone come in who wasn't supposed to be there. A lot of Luckett's police force were the postapocalyptic version of rent-a-cops, not all that vigilant or even competent.  This one just glance at them, then did a double-take when he realized they were intruders and started to reach for the semi-automatic pistol on his hip.copyright protection17PENANA1dmmkyV9Uo

Caron's fist crashed into the man's jaw before he could complete the draw.  The punch knocked him back against the wall.  Caron used his left hand to grab the man's wrist and prevent him from pulling the gun.  At the same time, Caron closed his right hand around the guard's throat and banged his head against the wall.  The man was already stunned and couldn't muster up his wits enough to fight back.  Caron rammed his head against the wall several more times until the man's muscles went limp.  He slid down the wall to the floor, leaving a slight bloody smear behind him from the contusions on the back of his head.copyright protection17PENANAzgxe8u9x5z

Carlyn bent down and pulled the pistol from the man's holster.  Caron was already armed with a short-barreled revolver stuck behind his belt at the small of his back.copyright protection17PENANAmo9vA9ybCe

Mike Hung had sketched the layout of the Command Center for them.  There was a central hallway with large rooms opening from both sides of it. Inside the rooms to the right were the controls for all the environmental and life-support systems, as well as access to the generators and the actual air- and water-filtration equipment.  To the left were all the monitoring stations, including the big room where Hung worked keeping track of readings from all over the project, as well as the sensors located on the surface.  There were security camera feeds in here as well, but at this time of night only one person kept an eye on them.  The Command Center operated on a skeleton crew during the nighttime hours.  There were only two people in the main room with Hung tonight, a man and a woman, Carlyn saw as she and Caron walked in carrying the guns.copyright protection17PENANA5Esr0M0VVV

Caron immediately leveled his revolver at the other two, who started to get up but sat back down, looking scared as the revolver's muzzle menaced them.  The man said, "What the hell?"copyright protection17PENANAjucQJklSSq

Carlyn pointed the pistol she had taken from the unconscious guard at Hung.  He had insisted that they treat him like the others, so nobody would suspect he was really helping them.  She said, "You!  Open the hatch at the top of the freight-elevator shaft!"copyright protection17PENANAsfPBLpLjBo

Wide-eyed with fear that was likely real because he wasn't sure what Carlyn might do, Hung stammered, "I---I can't do that!  It takes a special access card...."copyright protection17PENANAxG2082M8XI

With her other hand, Carlyn slapped the cards she had taken from McKee onto the control panel in front of Hung.  "Find the right one and use it," she ordered. "And if you try any tricks, I'll kill you!"copyright protection17PENANA3hcg8WBuOt

As she said it, she more than halfway meant it.copyright protection17PENANAVhJKTu9ENL

With shaking hands, Hung sorted through the plastic cards and picked up one of them.  He tapped out some numbers on the keyboard in front of him, then inserted the card into a reader.  A green light appeared on the screen before him.  He swallowed hard and said, "I can access those controls now."copyright protection17PENANA2lr4lz78I5

"All right," Carlyn picked up the other access cards. "Wait until one of them tells you to open the shaft." She knew that once that hatch at the top of the shaft began to open, it would set off an alarm.  She wanted to wait as long as possible before that happened so she would be ready for the next part of her plan.  She glanced over at Caron, who still covered the other two techs with the revolver.  "You have this?"copyright protection17PENANAQMm32vZDZO

"Of course I do," he told her.copyright protection17PENANA7V5QFZlPD8

"I knew you would. Thanks, Zach."  For one second she thought about going to him and kissing him, but she didn't want to waste the time, and besides, the gesture might distract him.  They both had to stay focused on what they were trying to do.copyright protection17PENANAAGu2KQBSYk

The female tech said, "You're trying to leave the city?  That's crazy!  It's dangerous up there!"copyright protection17PENANAXO6kR9PRNP

"People live up there," Carlyn snapped. "My husband lives up there.  Luckett is lying to all of us about how bad it is.  We can go back up and start our lives again anytime we want to, and I'm going to prove it!"copyright protection17PENANAGUKLLpL6fo

She turned and ran out of the Command Center.copyright protection17PENANAfP4JSPzuHy

During the past few days, Carlyn had walked from the Command Center entrance to the freight elevator several times, counting off the seconds in her head and coming up with an average time.  She had known she would be hurrying tonight, so that would make a few seconds' difference, but she also had to locate the right access card for the elevator and there was no way of knowing how long that would take.  So she and Caron had left the countdown the same and now those seconds were ticking off in her head as she approached the elevator.copyright protection17PENANAOFmVZe4O5R

Two men in red vests stood in front of it, talking.copyright protection17PENANADLMoxyOiE3

Carlyn almost stopped short at the sight of them, but managed to keep moving because she thought an abrupt halt might make them even more suspicious than they normally would be when they saw her.  She had expected maybe one guard, or even none at all in the middle of the night like this.  The double guard took her by surprise.copyright protection17PENANAHTTMDLBdfj

But the plan had come too far for her to abandon it now.  She would just have to adapt.copyright protection17PENANAL4Y7ZXm4Ms

She hurried up to the guards, who looked at her warily. All the members of the police force knew who she was.  She held up her hands, palms out, and said, "Hey, I don't want any trouble."copyright protection17PENANAWqeIOMgC5V

"What do you want, Mrs. Trogdon?" one of the men asked.copyright protection17PENANAGMPAytlaGB

"And what are you doing out at this time of night?" the other guard added.copyright protection17PENANAtrFszFqWJd

"I don't sleep that well, so I go for walks at night," she said. "I was doing that just now when I was around by the Command Center and saw some sort of commotion going on.  I don't know what it was about, but you guys might want to go make sure you're not needed over there."copyright protection17PENANAoFDCospF5u

"If they needed us, they would've called us on the walkie-talkie," the first guard said.copyright protection17PENANAALgqlPTHZz

"Maybe the walkie-talkies aren't working," Carlyn suggested. The numbers were still ticking off in her head, getting closer and closer to zero.  "I'm just trying to be helpful."copyright protection17PENANAit1YWAEmxn

Both men looked skeptical about that.copyright protection17PENANAzV3dysFX7K

"Think whatever you want about me, but I just want what's best for the city," Carlyn snapped.  "Besides, you may have forgotten, but I was elected to be a liaison and work with Mr. Luckett.  I'd just as soon put all the troubles behind us."copyright protection17PENANArIvI8Rx2yx

Neither guard looked like he believed that.copyright protection17PENANABR1DQXeukL

"At least one of you should go and see what's happening," Carlyn said.copyright protection17PENANASUGW7foMcv

"Look, Mrs. Trogdon, go back to your quarters, or keep taking your walk, or do whatever you want to do, but stop trying to interfere with things that aren't any of your concern.  You let us worry about..."copyright protection17PENANAxEe3nnUUpt

The man stopped short as they heard a faint rumble from somewhere up above.copyright protection17PENANAs1ltEcrSHM

Both policemen turned to face the elevator doors and tipped their heads back, even though there was nothing to see except the ceiling.  It was a natural instinct, though.  That was the direction the unexpected sound came from.copyright protection17PENANADzGkvOzUBM

The countdown had already hit zero in Carlyn Trogdon's head.  Now she reached behind her back, pulled the compact 9mm semi-automatic from the waistband of her jeans where the sweatshirt she had taken from Tod McKee's quarters had concealed it, and put the muzzle an inch away from the back of the nearest policeman's head.  She pulled the trigger. The blast was painfully loud.  Fire from the gun's muzzle charred the man's hair.  The bullet shattered his skull, bored through his brain, and blew out his face where his nose had been.  The other man was stunned for the half second it took Carlyn to swing the gun over and shoot him through the head, too.copyright protection17PENANAq8rEcO16Jr

Both of them hit the floor within one heartbeat of each other.copyright protection17PENANAAbsWF697ZQ

The noise of the shots, the sight of blood and gray matter dripping from the elevator doors, the sheer knowledge that she had just killed two more men left Carlyn disoriented.   Before the war, she had been just a normal person.  She had worked in an insurance office, for God's sake!  And now she was----What was she, anyway?copyright protection17PENANATDpAXVoxQZ

A woman who'd spent months stewing in grief and hatred, that's what she was, she realized as she shoved the gun down in her waistband again.  A woman who'd had the love of her life taken away from her, only to learn that he was still alive but she couldn't be with him again.copyright protection17PENANAkg8LVkzXrj

Well, they'd see about that!copyright protection17PENANAo2uRZaY8iX

She pulled the access cards from her pocket and started trying them in the reader next to the door.  The third one turned the indicator light green.  Carlyn pushed the button that opened the doors.  They slid back.copyright protection17PENANAYbAoMyka6a

Somewhere not too far away, someone started shouting.  Carlyn knew that alarms would be going off in various places to let people know the hatch at the top of the elevator shaft was opening. Back in the Command Center, Caron had done the same countdown she had and at the right time had ordered Hung to activate the hatch.copyright protection17PENANAaqqicmDMj4

Now it was up to her.copyright protection17PENANA5I7Az6Kxe2

She stepped into the elevator.  Caron had told her what she needed to do.  But she would have been able to figure it out anyway. "G" was Ground---the surface----"1" was the level they were on, "2" the lower city.copyright protection17PENANAvce5A0EVbL

Carlyn pressed her thumb on the button marked "G."  The doors closed and with a slight jerk the elevator started to rise.21Please respect copyright.PENANA02sqgCvTDT
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The fifty feet or so that separated the upper level of the Icarus Project from the surface was the longest ride of Caryln's life.  The elevator's progress was smooth and steady.  It was as old as the rest of the installation, dating back to the early 1960s when the missile base was built, but Chase Luckett had made sure that everything was in good working order.  If it wasn't, he had it repaired and refurbished until it was good on new.  The smoothness of the elevator ride didn't matter to Carlyn, though.  It still seemed to take forever.21Please respect copyright.PENANAHRDLZSGBId
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Finally, after seconds that had passed more like hours, the elevator came to a stoop with just a slight bounce of the floor under her feet.  The door might have opened automatically, but she didn't wait to see.  Instead she jammed her thumb down on the DOOR OPEN button.21Please respect copyright.PENANAdmnm2q6ll7
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With the same slight hiss as before, the doors parted. 21Please respect copyright.PENANAbmaEMrgilU
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Carlyn caught just a glimpse of flames flickering before hell poured in on her and she screamed.21Please respect copyright.PENANAb3MPPMIvoq
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